Public Works board discards Pay as You Throw but recommends “Recycling Made Easier”

by beth on January 23, 2015

Post image for Public Works board discards Pay as You Throw but recommends “Recycling Made Easier”

Above: The PWPB report recommends improved recycling and assessed fees for disposal of certain large white goods. (Photo by Beth Melo)

On Tuesday, the Public Works Planning Board presented their Transfer Station report to selectmen. They explained their recommendations and rationale on operations and funding.

The Board of Selectmen asked a few questions, but deferred any hearing or vote to the spring.

Selectmen Dan Kolenda told Chair Desiree Aselbekian, “I look forward to a robust debate in the springtime about the best ways/most efficient ways to move forward with the Transfer Station.”

Below are more details on the PWPB report.

Operations recommendations

According to the PWPB, the station is operated as efficiently as possible given the layout of site. As the Transfer station sits, one full time employee with a part-time/seasonal employee is necessary.

Aselbekian told selectmen that if the site layout changes it might be possible to “tweak” some staffing.

Selectman Paul Cimino wondered why there wasn’t more emphasis on improving recycling in their findings.

Aselbekian explained that state data on Pay as You Throw shows recycling can be improved, but it’s no guarantee. She said that in some communities people appear to only pinch pennies at the start:

but then you go back and say, ‘Oh, I’m not dealing with this!’ And you may end up resorting to your old ways.

The PWPB chair told the board,

We don’t feel that we should push something onto the community. . . and make them recycle, we want them to want to recycle. . .

There needs to be an overall better community plan to promote recycling. It can’t simply be forced upon you in the way you dispose of your trash.

(Note: Two of the five members did select a Pay as You Throw option as their second choice recommendation. More on that under Funding recommendations.)

The report also concluded that Pay as You Throw would require additional staffing.

In the report, the board did recommend implementing a “Recycling Made Easier” plan:

Under this plan, users would be able to commingle all the recyclables with the exception of newspapers and larger/corrugated cardboard. Therefore, glass, aluminum, paper goods, etc. can all be put in one bin increasing the ease of recycling.

Aselbekian also said that they are working with the Green Technology and Recycling Committee. They have attended each other’s meetings and plan to continue to work together to better promote recycling.

The report also calls for an “Enhanced Take-Back Program”. The board believes the DPW should charge a fee for large white goods that have extra disposal costs: refrigerators, matresses, couches, and televisions.

Funding recommendations

The Transfer Station is currently co-funded by town taxes and user fees. Senior citizens’ sticker fees are exempted.

PWPB members’ primary funding recommendation was a change in the fee structure to fully fund operations through taxes.

Aselbekian explained that members see the Transfer Station as a part of the community:

The transfer station has become, as I call it, a community hub, where not just throwing of trash happens. There’s much more going on at that facility. Therefore, we think it should be funded by the community.

The idea has, apparently, already had some push back. According to Chair Bill Boland in an email to me last week, some upset residents contacted BOS members when they mistakenly believed the BOS approved the change.

PWPB members also presented a secondary option – to keep the fee structure the same.

As explained in their report, members each voted for their 1st choice and 2nd choice options. Eliminating user fees received three 1st choice votes and one 2nd choice. Keeping the current system received two votes for 1st choice and two for 2nd choice.

An Enterprise Fund with “Pay as You Throw” was also selected as a second choice by two members. (No one selected as their first choice.)

That option would fully fund the station through user fees. The fees would be split by stickers to allow Transfer Station access and bag fees to charge residents by the amount of waste they dispose. An option within that allowed discounting the fees for seniors.

Options for employing Enterprise Funds with stickers or Revolving Funds with stickers/bag fees were disfavored by the board.

(Simply combining pay as you throw with current co-funding by tax payers wasn’t evaluated as an option.)

Next Steps

You can probably expect selectmen to schedule their vote for late spring. For the past five years, the BOS has discussed and/or voted on Transfer Station fees and regulations in May or June for implementation in September.

To see the full report by the PWPB, click here and scroll to page 5.

1 Carl Guyer January 24, 2015 at 6:28 PM

I am a member of the Southborough Green Technology and Recycling Committee. I have always been an advocate for the adoption Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT). PAYT’s track record as a financial and environmentally sound practice makes we wonder how long Southborough can continue to deny the proven benefits of PAYT. Add to the positive financial and environment benefits the inherit fairness of associating use of the Transfer Station with cost of operation; it is hard to imagine a more attractive policy for administering a public utility. With PAYT, those who bring more environmentally damaging waste material to the facility pay accordingly.

If you are at the Transfer Station look for our Committee’s report card on Southborough’s waste material and recycling performance. The report card gives Southborough a grade of “D”. As our report shows, our town accepts responsibility for more waste material than most and suffers from a lackluster recycling effort. We could do much better. As indicated by the report card, municipalities with PAYT manage the responsibility of waste disposal much better than Southborough.

There are a myriad of environmental issues resulting from our technological achievements. Adoption of PAYT is certainly not a reversal of this trend, but it is small step in the right direction.

2 Al Hamilton January 26, 2015 at 12:37 PM

I too am an advocate of Pay as you Throw. It puts the right incentives in the right place. Discard more pay more, discard less pay less. However, there is no political support in our community for this option so it is “off the table” for all intents and purposes.

On the other hand, finding $400,000 of new money within our budget is not easy thing to do. The recommendation that the Transfer Station be fully funded by tax dollars is easier said than done. It would have been helpful if they could have suggested a lower priority service that we could do without in order to fund this objective.

It also brings up some fundamental issues of fairness. Trash collection/recycling is a service the private sector is fully able to provide. Why should trash haulers be forced to compete with a free service partly funded with their tax dollars? Why should those that use private haulers be forced to pay for this service?

3 John Rooney January 26, 2015 at 2:17 PM

Carl and Al, As you know, for years I have put forth information that establishes how a consumption-based model reduces tonnage, increases recycling, reduces overall costs, and is better for the environment. I am cognizant of the arguments against this system, but stepping back from the emotion and behavior-changing requirement, I am unaware of any reliable empirical data that disputes the four objectives noted above.

If you look at our neighbor, Ashland, in the first year of going to a consumption-based model (curbside), they reduced tonnage by 37% and increased recycling by 98%. In a recent Waste Zero article “Eight is Great” we learn that Ashland has saved nearly $1 Million dollars ($983,000) on trash disposal costs after 8 years.

Needham operates the largest drop off PAYT community in the state. In the last five years, tonnage has been reduced by 40% and recycling has increased by 30% from pre-PAYT levels.

While there are arguments against a consumption-based disposal system, those arguments are specious when based upon a lack of cost savings or the environment.

Peter Senge, a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, said “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.” I am not foolish to believe any change will happen while I am on the Board, but let us not fool ourselves by ignoring the evidence.

Blizzard-time reading:
http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dep/recycle/reduce/06-thru-l/ashlandpayt.pdf
http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dep/recycle/reduce/m-thru-x/paytndhm.pdf
http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dep/recycle/reduce/m-thru-x/paytdxby.pdf
http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/tools/payt/index.htm
http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/ghg/climpayt.pdf

4 John Boiardi January 27, 2015 at 9:53 AM

Will there be a reduction in real estate taxes if we go to some form of pay-as-you whatever? If we have to pay to recycle under any of the plans shouldn’t there be a subsequent offset in that portion of our real estate taxes used to run the transfer station currently?

5 beth January 27, 2015 at 10:24 AM

It would depend on how it was structured. It’s possible that PAYT would only offset the sticker fees. It’s more likely that there would be some positive impact on the town’s costs and tax burden. (Especially, if the town began to see a savings there from reduced disposal fees.)

6 Al Hamilton January 27, 2015 at 4:12 PM

John

I am certain we will get a tax reduction. Look under your pillow the tooth fairy will bring it when she is not otherwise engaged.

7 John Boiardi January 28, 2015 at 7:41 AM

Al,

I was hoping for the tax fairy under my pillow. I suppose that there would be a tax increase to offset the savings. Isn’t that how government works?

8 Frank Crowell January 28, 2015 at 11:45 AM

The tax fairy just left office – never coming close to reducing property taxes in the state as he promised.

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